Pastors put aside personal territory to grow ethnic church


Thousands of miles—and years—removed from first century Corinth, Luke Chen and Jeff Langley are heeding the words of the Apostle Paul, who reminded the Roman church they were co-laborers for Christ.

The men have plenty in common. Needless to say, they both love the Lord and desire to follow His will. Both are church planters with relatively new fellowships; both share a similar theology and philosophy of ministry, both have a big vision for San Diego's north central region and a desire to build a multi-ethnic flock.

So for three years they met together to share coffee and notes. Beginning in late September, they are sharing even more after Chen's GC2 Church—an acronym for Great Commandment - Great Commission—and Langley's Cloudbreak Church merged.

"Neither one of us were looking to merge, but I think we both had a frustration because when we planted our churches God put in both of our hearts to pastor a multi-cultural church," Langley said. "What we found was that's easier said than done to be truly multi-cultural in the way we both wanted it to be. We both want it to look like the community we are in."

As separate entities, the congregations did resemble their pastors. Cloudbreak launched in 2006 with just two families. By the time of the merger, the mostly Caucasian congregation numbered about 125. To the south, and separated by Black Mountain, was Chen's GC2, which launched in 2009 and is predominately Asian. Now combined, attendance is closer to 200.

Recognizing the body often resembles its lead pastor, the pair has decided to co-lead the congregation to underscore the importance of their multi-cultural vision. Langley admits it was a concept he never considered when going through seminary.

"I'm very much an adventurer, a risk taker," Langley said. "I really wanted to try not to build on somebody else's foundation. I wanted to go along and to try to reach people that maybe some of the big churches in the area weren't reaching."

The issue was one of many the two considered during their courtship.

"It's easier to be the single leader," Langley said. "As we began talking about pulling our churches together we had that conversation. Should one of us be the leader? Both of us looked at each other, and (it was) either we are in this together or we are not in it. We really felt like if we are going to be the multicultural church that we want to be, that we have to be a team in every sense.

"In every way, we are approaching this together. What we are finding is that God had put the same vision in our heart from different angles, and so we actually have a very easy time agreeing and seeing eye to eye. So where a lot of pastors would find this harder what we are finding is that it's releasing Luke to work in his gifting. It's releasing me to work in my gifting, and our gifting actually complements one another."

The church will keep the name GC2, which Langley said he loves for its biblical foundation, and Cloudbreak's distinctive circular logo with crosses and waves will be integrated into the name.

"It has an echo of both churches," Langley said.

Playing to strengths
Through their exploratory meetings, Langley said he discovered that Chen's heart was in teaching, discipleship, pastoral care and organizing, while Chen saw that Langley's strengths were in preaching, missions outreach and children's ministry.

 "It was almost a relief in both of our minds," Chen said, knowing that they would be able to shed duties outside of their giftings, he said. "I've been an associate pastor prior to GC2, so I've always been working as a team member for 24 years. For Jeff it was this lead pastor thing is overblown. Neither of us, though, were like 'Wow, we need to be king of our mountain.' It's just not what we saw God wanting to see in our hearts."

As part of the merging process, the pastors and their leadership teams spent most of the summer organizing activities to help the congregations become acquainted with each other. Chen said some of their members' questions also helped them to work through subjects they had not yet considered.

Issues of conflict, he said, will be dealt with through the congregation's elder council by saying, "Here are the options. Take Luke and Jeff's name off of them and look at them objectively and pray over them. You guys decide, and we will defer to whatever decision you make," Chen said.

The founder of GC2 acknowledged that while the move to co-pastors may be unusual by today's standards, the Bible clearly demonstrated the concept of co-laboring among church leadership.

"In terms of the New Testament, changing leadership was free flowing," Chen said. "Sometimes it was Peter. Sometimes it was James or Paul and Barnabas. We see that flexibility in Scripture, and we want to be that flexible.

"We hope that we can break some preconceptions about church, whether it be about ethnicity or even about leadership. That we are really a community of believers, and that we recognize Christ as the head of our church and that the Kingdom of God is diverse. Heaven is going to be a place where people of all generations, all ethnicities, all cultures, come together in unity worshipping the Lord."

Greater goal
Chen said he anticipates hiccups along the way but believes the greater goal will result in a church body that more divinely reflects the image of the Lord.

"It's a challenge because we like being with people who are like us," he said. "It is a challenge to build bridges where we might not have the same cultural identity and so forth, but I think that's where God is enabling us to experience a deeper commitment, a deeper love and deeper obedience."

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